Real Estate

Peter Thiel’s luxury New Zealand lodge opposed by environmental group

Billionaire Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and chairman of Palantir Technologies, during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Nov. 18, 2019.
Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Peter Thiel’s proposed luxury lodge on New Zealand’s South Island has been criticized by a local environmental group who believe it is “inappropriate” for the natural landscape.

The PayPal and Palantir co-founder, who profited from an early investment in Facebook, wants to build the lodge and a private residential building on a 193-hectare (477-acre) estate that he owns on the shores of Lake Wanaka, near Queenstown.

Thiel bought the estate in 2015 for a reported $13.5 million through an Auckland-headquartered company he owns called Second Star Limited.

Details of the development, designed by Tokyo Olympic Stadium architect Kengo Kuma and Associates, emerged in a planning application in August.

They show several buildings that are designed to blend into the landscape. There’s a private home built into a hillside as well as a larger luxury lodge with enough space for 24 people. There’s also a separate meditation pod, several water features and a yet-to-be-designed back-of-house building.

But in a six-page letter to Queenstown Lakes District Council this month, the Upper Clutha Environmental Society said it opposed the application in its entirety.

“The Society believes the applicant has not meaningfully avoided, remedied or mitigated adverse effects,” the letter reads, before going on to say that “the proposed development is inappropriate.”

The environmental group argues that the buildings will be an eyesore on the natural landscape and that the development is “extremely unlikely” to meet the “reasonably difficult to see test” set by the local council.

A representative for Thiel did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Kengo Kuma and Associates said its objective was to “design an organic architecture that fuses into the landscape” and respects the indigenous nature. Elsewhere, Jo Fyfe, senior planner at John Edmonds and Associates, who carried out an assessment of the environmental effects of the complex, said the placement of the buildings into the landscape was “thoughtful.”

Visual impact

The so-called “owner’s cabin” has a spa, pool, theater lounge, office and three bedrooms, while the guest cabin has its own spa and pool, as well as a library, and 10 guest bedrooms with uninterrupted north-facing views toward Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps.

To highlight the visual impact of the development, the campaign group opposed to the development noted that “the row of buildings proposed … extend across a wide visual catchment of the subject site; the buildings stretch for 330m.”

“The associated car parking, access roads and paths will further detract from views of outstanding natural landscape; no less than 7.4ha [hectares] of the site is proposed to be dug up in earthworks of 36,800 m3,” it continues.

Aspects of the development will be visible from Lake Wanaka and a number of public tracks in the area, the group said. “People driving, riding, walking, paddling or boating in these highly frequented public locations will be assailed by a large number of buildings spread laterally across the subject site,” it argued.

The lavish lodge would feature 10 bedrooms.

The society, however, said it was impressed by the “ecological and biodiversity enhancements” described in the planning application.

It also admitted that the development could result in potential economic gains for the area if the proposed tourist unit buildings are used in the manner described in the application.

But the positive effects “will not meaningfully mitigate” the adverse effects of the proposed development, it added.

Kiwi citizenship

In 2017, it emerged that Thiel had been granted citizenship by the New Zealand government but his love for Aotearoa (the Maori name for the country) goes a long way back.

The serial entrepreneur first visited New Zealand in 1995 when he was 28, according to an in-depth investigation by The New Zealand Herald.

He’s also a huge fan of “The Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy, which was filmed in New Zealand. At least five of his businesses have names inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels.

Located in relative isolation from the largest population centers of the world, New Zealand has become a popular destination with high net worth individuals in recent years. Billionaire Google co-founder Larry Page was granted residency at the start of the year.

Home to around 5 million people, the country has become linked with “preppers” — those who try to prepare for catastrophic events that may pose a threat to humanity.

Reports had suggested that Thiel was planning to build some sort of apocalypse-proof bunker on his estate. While some of the buildings appear to be built into hillsides, it’s unclear if any of them are intended to serve as a bunker.

The prepper craze was first put under the spotlight in Jan. 2017, when an article in The New Yorker titled “Doomsday prep for the super-rich” revealed how New Zealand is essentially like a mecca for wealthy preppers. It’s remote, geopolitically stable, and sparsely populated. Importantly, it could also become completely self-sufficient in terms of water, food, and energy if it ever needed to.

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